Skinny men stuff newspapers against their chests, insulation for the freezing French mountain air, their bicycles soaring down steep roads through tucked away villages. Calf muscles pulsate for days on end, wheels moving past wheels, a colorful trained stampede of lungs pumping, faces grimacing, as fans run half-naked among the cavalcade. Alpe d’Huez, La Rosiere, through the Alps, the Pyrenees, they ride wary, ready to attack, counter attack, slurping energy goos in pursuit of the yellow jersey.
I first watched with old men in Madrid, we gathered around the hotel’s black and white TV. 1989 and I barely knew what France was; Voltaire, World War II, my parents listening to Edith Piaf, not much more. I became captivated, not by the mass of the peloton, but by the lone rider, the one who would pedal ahead of the pack, desperate, confident, like a rogue gust of wind pushing a kite to fly. Some days he’d be caught, reeled in, but other days he’d escape, stay free, win the race. I imagined that he was me, fearful, fearless.